Overnight Defense: Israeli Security Cabinet votes for cease-fire | Senators urge expedited visas for Afghans who helped US troops | Pentagon pushes for more military vaccinations

Overnight Defense: Israeli Security Cabinet votes for cease-fire | Senators urge expedited visas for Afghans who helped US troops | Pentagon pushes for more military vaccinations
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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Israeli Security Cabinet on Thursday approved plans for a cease-fire with Hamas that would end more than a week of missile strikes and rocket fire in the Gaza Strip and Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE's office said in a statement.

The cabinet, including top security officials and government ministers, agreed unanimously to a ceasefire negotiated by Egypt, which was in talks both with Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. Hamas also confirmed to Reuters that it will abide by the truce.

The precise timing of when the cease-fire would take effect is still unconfirmed but is expected to start at roughly 2 a.m. local time, or 7 p.m. eastern time.

Stopping the violence: The ceasefire would cap off some of the most brutal violence between Israel and Hamas since 2014. Hamas has fired thousands of rockets at Israel over the past 11 days, striking a number of cities in southern and central Israel. Israel responded with an air campaign that devastated Gaza’s infrastructure, though the Israeli military maintained it was only targeting sites used by militants.

A dozen people, including a child, were killed in Israel, while the Palestinian Health Ministry said Thursday that 232 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip, including 65 children. Israeli's military over the weekend said 130 of those killed were combatants.

Caving to pressure?: There has been growing international pressure on Israel and Hamas to begin a ceasefire, and growing pressure on President BidenJoe BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' MORE to use U.S. influence to convince Netanyahu's government to agree to a ceasefire. 

Democrats in Washington increasingly said Israel should ease its punishing air campaign, and Biden told Netanyahu Wednesday that he “expected a significant de-escalation” in hostilities.

A divide: While Republicans in the U.S. have largely stood behind Israel, saying it has the right to defend itself form a rocket barrage, the violence has splintered the Democratic Party.

While leaders of the party remained largely supportive of Jerusalem, progressives in Congress fiercely rebuked the military’s operations in the Gaza Strip. The most recent division opened up over whether to halt a $735 million arms sale to Israel.

A final barrage: Fighting intensified in the hours leading up to the ceasefire announcement, with militants launching scores more rockets at Israel Thursday and Israel launching a new wave of air strikes.

The Israeli military maintained that it made significant gains against Hamas during the battle, saying it deteriorated the militant group’s complex tunnel system while also touting the effectiveness of its defensive Iron Dome system.

But will it last?: Ceasefires between Israel and Hamas have fallen through in the past. A truce to end the 2014 conflict was broken twice throughout seven weeks of fighting.

Netanyahu’s office left open the possibility that fighting could resume, saying that “the reality on the ground” will “determine the future of the operation.”

More stories from The Hill here:

-- Sanders planning resolution to block arms sale to Israel

-- WHO calls for humanitarian pause in Israel-Hamas conflict

-- White House encouraged by 'reports of a potential cease-fire' in Gaza

-- US opposes UN resolution calling on Israel-Gaza cease-fire

-- Israel launches more airstrikes after Biden calls for de-escalation

 

SENATORS PRESS DEFENSE OFFICIALS ON RUSHING VISAS FOR AFGHANS WHO HELPED US TROOPS

Senators pressed Defense officials Thursday on their plans to expedite visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops, the latest warning from bipartisan lawmakers about the need to ensure the safety of Afghan allies as the U.S military departs.

The issue: Afghans who served as interpreters for U.S. troops or otherwise assisted U.S. personnel during the 20-year war can come to the United States through what’s known as the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.

But that program faces a years-long backlog of thousands of applications, raising concerns among U.S. lawmakers that Afghan allies will be left behind amid the U.S. withdrawal and potentially face slaughter by the Taliban.

The Biden administration has said it is looking at ways to improve the program, but has offered few specifics. 

More details, please: At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, senators pressed David Helvey, acting assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, for more information.

“I appreciated your support for those Afghans who have helped us during our 20 years in Afghanistan, but I think we've got to be clear about what we're doing to address that,” Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenEquilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power CIA watchdog to review handling of 'Havana syndrome' cases Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag MORE (D-N.H.) told Helvey, noting the 18,000 SIV applications awaiting processing. “Many of the delays in the SIV program stem from the difficulty that those applicants have in obtaining employment verification letters from former and often defunct employers.”

The concern voiced at Thursday’s hearing echoed similar concerns expressed at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan earlier in the week, as well as a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week.

Other efforts: Lawmakers have sent several letters to the Biden administration imploring them to expedite visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops, including one this week from Shaheen, Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstRepublicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund GOP seeks to make Biden synonymous with inflation MORE (R-Iowa) and a bipartisan group of their Senate colleagues and another from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksUS delegation departs Haiti after reports of gunshots at ex-president's funeral Biden announces delegation to attend Haitian president's funeral Critical race theory becomes focus of midterms MORE (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulAfghan evacuees to be housed at Virginia base Passport backlog threatens to upend travel plans for millions of Americans US lawmakers express shock at Haitian president's assassination MORE (R-Texas).

Read the rest of the story here.

 

PENTAGON PUSHES EFFORT TO GET MORE SERVICE MEMBERS VACCINATED

The Defense Department on Thursday called on military leaders to take steps to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination rates among service members.

“The department has redoubled its efforts to encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Terry Adirim told reporters at the Pentagon following the release of a memo on the new push.

The document is meant to reaffirm the importance of vaccination and highlight tools to encourage military members to get the shot, she said.

Four areas: The memo focuses on four specific areas: Increasing the vaccine’s accessibility, educating personnel on the shot, leveraging policies such as extra time off to encourage vaccination and acknowledging and addressing any concerns.

“The threat of COVID-19 to our Nation and our allies and partners has not yet abated. ...We must continue to do all we can to operate safely and effectively in a COVID-19 environment for the foreseeable future,” said the memo, which was signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Joints Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten.

Making progress: More than 1.3 million service members are partially or fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the latest Department of Defense numbers.

Broken down, the numbers mean 58 percent active duty service members have had at least one dose, with 44 percent fully vaccinated, Adirim said.

Those percentages are an improvement from one month ago, when only 37 percent had received at least one dose, “so we’re making good steady progress,” she added.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit the White House for talks with President Joe Biden. 

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a webinar on “The Role of Integrated Air and Missile Defense for Strategic Deterrence,” with Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commander of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, at 10 a.m. 

The Hudson Institute will hold a webinar on “Ukraine's Latest Security Crisis,” with Assistant NATO Secretary General for Intelligence and Security David Cattler and Assistant NATO Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Baiba Braze, at 12 p.m. 

 

ICYMI

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-- Military Times: Taliban may grab US military equipment as American troops leave Afghanistan

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